BY Sandra Appiah, 12:00am May 16, 2011,

Taking Charge: Cancer Prevention and Education for African Women

By: Ogo Njoku

Photo courtesy: African Women’s Cancer Awareness Association

Cancer is an emerging public health concern worldwide. According to recent World Health Organization (WHO) projections, cancer replaced ischemic heart disease as the overall leading cause of death globally in 2010.

One of the cancers that affects women the most in Africa and in developing countries is breast cancer, followed by colorectal and lung cancer. Although there are efforts to increase early detection and screening in Africa, there will always be a number of risk factors associated with the condition, including environmental issues, lack of access to healthcare for screening, fear and lack of education.

Africans abroad have a social and moral responsibility to work hard to make the appropriate resources available for family and friends to fight cancer. In particular, education on the importance of early detection and screening is paramount to reversing the growing trend of cancer in our communities. It is necessary for both women and men to understand the importance of identifying the signs and symptoms of cancer for it is a crucial element in the growing mortality rates amongst Africans.

An example of an organization taking up this challenge is the non-profit organization African Women’s Cancer Awareness Association (AWCAA), based in Silver Spring, MD. Last year they had an unpleasant experience on one of their annual medical missions to Africa.

The AWCAA team was told by government officials overseeing the medical mission that there was “no time for education of the women and the AWCAA doctors should focus on diagnosis and surgery of the most fatal patients only.” AWCAA stood strong as one of their mission goals is to educate the people. They were not fazed by the threatening orders and proceeded to recruit women to informational sessions on how to do a proper Breast Self Examination (BSE), which gave women model breasts to practice on and taught them the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

By the third day, based on the returning number of women with their family and friends that desired this education, the same government officials had no choice but to assist and lend their support in the educational component of this medical mission.

As you can see in the pictures below, African women who came to the medical mission had obvious signs of advanced breast cancer but due to fear, lack of access to adequate healthcare and/or lack of education they suffered in silence. As a result, they came out in record numbers (thousands) at the mention of free healthcare through this medical mission.

According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that more than half of all cancer cases are preventable. However, there are large survival differences between economically developed and developing countries. For example, the five year survival rate for breast cancer in the United States is approximately 84%, compared to only 39% in Algeria.

We must give credit and sincere appreciation to The American Cancer Society and its partners in Africa who are working to prioritize cancer awareness. As a people, let us not wait on foreigners to do the job that we have been charged to fulfill. So many of us leave our homelands for better opportunities but sadly we often forget about those we left behind and future generations that by no choice of their own will remain in an environment that does not afford them the same education, benefits and resources that we are privileged to.

To make a difference you do not have to be a healthcare professional on a medical mission. You can take educational material for the local clinic or hospital, get trained as a health educator or you can even hold your own informational sessions when you visit your respective countries in Mother Africa.

If you can identify signs and symptoms of breast cancer, make an effort to get that family or friend access to immediate medical attention. You can also get involved in volunteer organizations that support African immigrant cancer patients here in the United States. Try and make a difference, no matter how small you think it is.


Last Edited by: Updated: September 12, 2018


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